There’s a recent trend of adults reading children’s literature. There are obligatory JK Rowling and Tolkien references to be made here, but the trend doesn’t end there.
This isn’t to say that the books don’t serve a valuable role. Shannon Hale writes complicated female characters. They have conflicting goals they must struggle with. They interact with other women who each have distinct personalities. The superheroes are all women. If there is a weakness in character development, it lies wholly with the men. Not a single one sparks interest. Their names offer more individuality to them than their actual behavior. They act and behave like men, but they are all interchangeable. This sounds like a critique, but on the whole we could use more books like this and Hale performs a valuable service in providing them.
The story has conflicts. There are stakes. They are life and death. In fact, these stakes are probably higher than typical stakes in adult fiction. But what then makes this a work for children?
I haven’t quite figured that out. It certainly has something to do with the emotional development of the characters. Our heroine faces external dangers, but ultimately they are tamed by being true and honest to herself. And the theme of the book, which it states explicitly in at least one passage is about being true and honest to oneself. There is something about being so explicit about one’s meaning that damns a book to gain an audience among children rather than adults.
Additionally, that very message seems to be tailored for middle and high school students. Adult books can be about self-discovery certainly, but seemingly every book for this age group is. And struggling to overcome one’s own qualms seems to be something we will associate with children’s fiction rather than what is written for adults.